More colleges offering admission to students who never applied

Direct admissions, as the approach is often called, allow colleges to send offers to students based just on their GPAs or a few other criteria, such as intended major or geographic location, without the hassle of essays, recommendation letters and months of uncertainty.

More than 85% of four-year schools admit at least half their applicants, federal data show. They just make those candidates jump through hoops first. The aim with direct admissions, participants say, is to make the process less cumbersome, show low-income and first-generation students that college is within reach, and funnel more prospects toward institutions desperate to meet enrollment goals.

“There has to be a bit of a redistribution of the power dynamic from the college to the families right now,” said Luke Skurman, chief executive and founder of Niche.com Inc., which offers profiles and ratings of hundreds of thousands of schools and towns. Niche piloted a direct-admission program with two colleges last spring and is now working with 14.

Within the past year, the Common Application, private-college scholarship program SAGE Scholars, the state of Minnesota and Concourse—purchased in September by enrollment-management consulting firm EAB—have also launched or expanded direct-admit programs in conjunction with colleges or universities.

The process for most is fairly straightforward: Students looking to learn more about colleges, or who are interested specifically in joining the direct-admit pool, register on a website with their biographical information and basics such as GPA and areas of academic interest. Most students don’t know which schools are even participating. The platform then screens students based on schools’ requested criteria and, after coordinating with the schools, sends out admission offers.

The 30 questions on the Niche website take about a half-hour to complete, Mr. Skurman said.

Upon running its screens, Niche first notifies eligible students who expressed interest in a school, for instance by opting into receiving mailings—they are most likely to be receptive to an offer. The next set of students they reach out to may have shown interest in similar schools.

Claire Gaber was only considering large public schools close to her home in Portland, Ore., until an email in February, bearing the logos of Niche and Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland, threw her off that path. “Congratulations, Claire!” it read in part. “Based on your Niche profile you’re being offered admission for the fall 2022 semester. No application is necessary.”

“My first question was, ‘Is this real?’” said Ms. Gaber, now 19 years old. “Then I read it.”

Swayed by a campus visit, talks with the rugby coach and a $25,000 annual scholarship that brought the total cost below state universities in Oregon, she is now a freshman at Mount St. Mary’s.

Under this model, a student’s file goes into the official applicant pool only if they accept the school’s overture and agree to be contacted further. Then it is up to the school to woo the student.

“The dating metaphor, you can’t escape it,” said Joe Morrison, founder of EAB’s Concourse platform, likening the process to having both parties swipe right on an app.

Concourse’s Greenlight Match started last year as a pilot with 10 colleges focused on low-income and first-generation students in Chicago, mainly through community-based organizations. It now has more than 70 partners on the domestic front, including Auburn University and Southern Methodist University.

The colleges participating in direct-admission pilots so far include big and small institutions, public and private. Some more selective schools say they have begun discussions about signing up, at least for students interested in particular academic disciplines or for international students.

“Any project, opportunity, initiative that helps remove friction from students looking to go to college is something that lands on my radar,” said Jordanna Maziarz, director of undergraduate admissions at Montclair State University in New Jersey, which is working with the Common Application and EAB. “Why do we have to make it so hard for them?”

Last year the Common Application offered spots to about 3,000 candidates based on Montclair State’s GPA criteria. Thirty one put down deposits, and 27 actually enrolled.

Miguel Popoca Flores, a senior at Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis, said he didn’t realize he had so many options until learning about Minnesota’s direct-admission program. Based on his GPA, he is guaranteed admission to schools including the University of Minnesota Duluth, Dunwoody College of Technology and Minnesota State University, Mankato.

He is still applying to others, but if they don’t pan out, “You always have this college as a backup,” he said. “You’re not stuck in limbo.”

Augsburg University in Minnesota is participating in direct-admission pilots with the Common Application and with the state of Minnesota, and cut its own application to be completed in an average of seven minutes.

Nearly all applicants with an unweighted GPA of at least 2.75 are admitted. Online offer letters come in a few days, including details about guaranteed scholarships.

Augsburg already connected with 184 students through the Minnesota pilot, nearly half of whom weren’t on the school’s radar, according to Robert Gould, vice president for strategic enrollment management. And as of Nov. 7, it received 1,581 applications via the Common Application and its website, up 44% from that time the prior year. It admitted 1,094 of them.

The path to direct admission may actually be long for some students, as a number of schools are requiring that those flagged for acceptance still complete applications. Critics warn that could scare off prospects and undermine the goal of simplifying the process.

SAGE Scholars, a tuition-rewards program for private colleges, now offers something founder James Johnston likens to a mortgage preapproval—subject to verification, and potentially more paperwork, if schools so choose.

More than 30 schools have signed up for its “FastTrak” program this fall.

Goldey-Beacom College in Delaware has about 700 undergraduates and was overwhelmed when it saw 4,333 students qualify for admission through FastTrak, based on its 2.5 GPA threshold.

Administrators limited the pool by geography and academic interest, cutting the field of automatic admits down to 434.

Larry Eby, executive director of institutional advancement, said even modest gains from FastTrak would count as a success.

“If we have one enrolled student from it, that’s one that we didn’t have before,” he said.

(This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.)

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